Hamas poised to agree Gaza ceasefire

Israel is poised to agree to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal with Hamas, despite the deal not including any assurances regarding the release of captured solder Gilad Shalit and an end to arms smuggling over the Egyptian border.

The deal will put on hold the plans to launch a large-scale raid on the Gaza Strip. Under the agreement reached by Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman, who over the last two weeks met Palestinian representatives and the Israeli leadership, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah will all cease firing rockets into Israel, while the IDF will in turn refrain from attacks on the Gaza Strip.


Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in his Gaza City office

Israel has refused Hamas demands to link IDF operations in the West Bank to quiet in Gaza. Israel has given in on two main demands: that the deal include an assurance that Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured in a cross-border raid almost two years ago, would be released; and that Hamas would not use the ceasefire to continue smuggling arms through the Egyptian border and build up its military capabilities.

There is not expected to be a formal signing of the ceasefire, which Hamas is terming a tahadiya, a provisional cessation of violence, but Israel has agreed that if calm is maintained, the economic blockade of the Strip will gradually be eased.

Israel, though, is expected to hold up the opening of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt until significant progress is reached over the release of Corporal Shalit, the subject of a contentious prisoner-exchange.

Israel was widely expected to launch a large-scale military attack on the Strip, following the Independence Day celebrations and the visit by US President George Bush last week, but failed to gain American or European approval for such an operation, despite repeated firing from Gaza on Israeli territory.

The Israeli government believes that if the Palestinian organisations break the ceasefire, it will have international justification then to attack. However Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for breaking Israel’s rule and negotiating with Hamas.

He said that Israel could not agree to having a terror state on its southern border and should step up its military offensive.

Qassam-firing at Israel continued this week intermittently; no Israelis have been wounded since a Grad missile hit an Ashkelon shopping centre last week, wounding 24 civilians. Two Hamas members and two civilians — including a 13-year-old boy — were killed in Israel Air Force attacks on Tuesday.

    Last updated: 9:21am, May 28 2008